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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter XVI - Lews Climate and Midges

THERE are two points which I must here introduce, without which my account of the Lews would be most imperfect; these are the climate and the midges. To both I have frequently alluded; I must now particularise a little more.

I do not scruple to say that the weather is ' perfectly intolerable. I have lived many years in Ireland, and of those some seven or eight in Kerry, where it knows how to rain, and where I remember once pretty constant rain every day for six weeks; but the savagery (to coin a word) of the weather in the Lews is not describ-able. A gentleman from the county of Clare— not the mildest climate in the world—once shot a season with me, and had very good sport, which he enjoyed much. I asked him to come again. “Not for five thousand pounds a year,” he replied, “would I encounter this climate again. I am delighted I came, for now I can go back to my own country with pleasure, since, bad as the climate is, it is Elysium to this.” It is a thoroughly provoking climate too ; for, as a friend of mine, who was with me for a season or two truly said, “The only dry weather in the year sets in with the fishing, and the wet invariably comes in with the shooting season.55 The late spring and early summer months are generally so dry that the fish often can’t get up till the middle of August for want of water; and, as the grouse are not fit to shoot before the beginning, often not before the middle, of September, when the wet season sets in, the force of my friend's remark will be at once seen. It is not that the weather is rainy only, but there are hurricanes of wind, hailstorms with avalanches of hailstones. No two days are alike. Catch a fine day, it is sure to be a weather-breeder of three days5 storm. The rapidity with which the changes come on is really wonderful. I have often been sitting at Aline of a quiet night, when a slight moan and whu-u-ush was heard, and in five minutes it was blowing such a gale of wind over Loch Seaforth that you couldn5t hear yourself speak. I have seen the air so thick with rain and squall that you could not tell what the loch was, land or water, except that in some gleam of light you could see the boiling foam of the waves. God help the unfortunate boat upon it then! What the wind can be one has no idea of. I have been blown over on foot more than once, and how one ever got home in the stormy nights from the bothy to Soval, without being blown over—trap, horse, and all—I can’t tell. I had frequent occasions to go to Stornoway, and I have walked there in days I would not take my horse and trap out—partly out of charity for my poor old horse Fred, partly out of regard for my own bones. The weather materially interfered not only with the pleasure, but almost with the possibility, of shooting; for you may fish in very bad weather, you may stalk in ditto, and you may hunt, but you can’t shoot a wild hill country with dogs in rain and storm.

It is this weather that so thrashes and halfkills your dogs. Supposing the day not to be so bad, the night’s and the previous day’s rain has swollen the small burns into torrents, let alone the rivers. You may manage yourself to get over the stepping-stones, or you may wade through not much over the knee; the unfortunate dogs have, however, to swim—often carried over by the stream and ducked over head. Now, this is not pleasant for even the working dogs; but the poor dogs who have to be led about in this draggled state till their turn comes, suffer for it, and if the days are cold —which, fortunately, in that country they are not—much more than you do yourself; for you have your warm fire and bed, whereas you cannot get good bedding for your dogs. I used always to let them bask as long as I could by the kitchen fire; but they must go to their kennels at last. In short, I candidly confess that at times the climate beat me, body, soul, and spirit, and I was sore tempted to give it up, and would have done so but for my attachment to the place. Thus, I must say the weather is a sore drawback to the Lews. There is one thing certainly in it—it is wholesome. You are never dry; but the wet don’t hurt you, though I have not the least doubt it does all animals except deer, which seem to thrive under it, for the venison of the Long Island is the best I ever tasted, and acknowledged to be so by all acquainted with its merits. Dress warm, for you won’t be overpowered with too much heat, and never let anything but wool touch any part of your body; live on game, venison, and salmon; drink no wine, but a little very good beer, and a modicum, of good whisky, not too much; smoke in moderation; also dance a reel whenever that prince of pipes, the proprietor’s piper, is handy; fear God and honour the Queen—and you’ll do well, even with the atrocious elements of the Lews.

Ladies and gentlemen, do you know what midges are ? If you don’t, pray go to the Lews. I do not say they are merely an annoyance, for they are a drawback to enjoyment there, and their presence amounts to such a nuisance that of themselves alone they ought to necessitate a reduction of 100 per cent, on rent. They interfere with every occupation in life. Fishing, you must either be stifled with a midge-veil or smoke yourself sick to keep them off. When you sit down to luncheon, that most enjoyable of hours in either fishing or shooting, they are all but maddening. I have lately described what they can be when stalking, and even on the highest hills they will pursue you, and if they catch you there I think they are worse than anywhere. In short, they are maddening even to the natives, and I have often been fairly driven home by them. Then there are a few of those delicious days that sometimes come even in the Lews, when the dolcefar niente is the only enjoyment to be had. You saunter out to wander by the river side, or sit down to watch the sea loch softly rippling to your feet, delighted to have such a scene to ponder on. Not a bit of it. The tempter of all has even there his infernal machinations at work, and from the bottomless pit sends forth his demons in the shape of myriads of midges, to scare all good thoughts away and drive you frantic. Or you stroll out on a fine evening with your lady-love, to show her some of the beautiful points of view, or your pet casts in the stream, and you watch for the expression of those speaking eyes. Don’t you wish you may catch it?

You have been obliged to wrap her well up in a midge-veil, or the said eyes will be closed in the morning—bunged up, as we used to say at school—with midge-bites ; and a blackamoor’s lips are a joke to what that sweet little mouth would become. A muggy, calm, hazy, drizzly day arrives, unfit for any outdoor amusement ; you settle yourself down in your bothy to improve your mind or write your memoirs. Vain effort! The windows have been opened to let in the air, and the midges have taken advantage and come in too. Your den swarms with them, and your only chance is to light a peat fire outside the windows, perhaps on the floor too, and fill the house with peat smoke, or be midged. Pleasant alternative ! For the after-reek of peat smoke is not nice, and that same being midged is no joke with some people. I have known individuals so punished that it has brought on fever and erysipelas. I don’t care for the insects as much as most people, but once I had erysipelas from midging, and was laid up for some time, and at another time a downright bad leg, which bothered me for weeks; and I do not hesitate to repeat that in the Lews they amount to a positive plague. The best preventive is either a midge veil or smearing your face and wrists well with stag’s grease, not the pleasantest thing in the world. Oil of thyme is nicer, and will sometimes do, but you must keep repeating it. After midging, I found the only soothing process was to bury your face in as hot water as you could bear.

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